With Rasheem Barrett and Korvotney Barber scoring 21 points apiece, the Tigers rallied from a 17-point second half deficit to avoid an embarrassing loss to winless Nicholls State with a big rally and a 92-87 overtime victory to improve their record to 5-2 while the visiting Colonels fell to 0-8.
Nicholls State coach J.P. Piper said he felt like an angler who had a big fish on the line ready to put it in the boat. "It jumped out of the net on us," Piper said.
The coach noted that his team may have been surprised to be leading an SEC team late in the game. "We may have been biting off more than we can chew there," he said. "The reason those kids are at Auburn and playing at this level is that they make plays under pressure and they certainly did that tonight when the game was on the line. They stepped up and got it done and our hats are off to them."
One of the parts of the game the Tigers stepped up down the stretch was free throw shooting. After making just 5-10 in the first half and then missing their next three, the Tigers connected on 12 of their final 13 attempts in the second half and the overtime.
That helped Jeff Lebo's squad overcome a Nicholls State team that hit 13-25 three pointers while Auburn made just 5-25 three-pointers. "The three-point shot is the great equalizer," Lebo said.
Lebo noted that his team's inability to hit three-pointers or any shots for much of the game was a huge concern and explains why the Tigers fell behind by 17. "It is hard to come back when you don't put the ball in the basket. I don't know what we scored toward the end, but we scored a bunch of points at the end finally when the ball went in the hole. Was I concerned? Very.
"They are odd to play against," added Lebo, who noted the Colonels played well early and throughout the game. "They are all spread out with no post game. They pass the ball very well and when they shoot the ball from the perimeter they are nasty to play against because they can shoot it from every spot and they shot it today. The way they started out it gave them a lot of confidence. I think they hit four in a row to start the game."
The Colonels didn't play like a winless team in the first half although the Tigers helped the visitors by giving up too many uncontested shots from three-point range and under the basket. Nicholls State made 18-33 field goals in the first 20 minutes.
Less than five minutes into the contest the Tigers trailed 19-7. The Colonels built their largest lead of the half at 15 points at the 13:39 mark on a basket by Aaron Scott to make the score 24-9.
Auburn turned up the defensive pressure and began steadily chipping into the margin despite hurting its cause with 10 first half turnovers and 5-10 shooting at the free throw line.
The Tigers cut the lead to single figures on a dunk by Barber with 2:53 left in the half. At intermission AU trailed 45-38 despite 10 turnovers and allowing the visitors to hit 7-13 first half three-pointers. Ryan Bathie was 4-5 on treys. He finished with 18 points.
Vot Barber slams one home against Nicholls State Tuesday night.
Nicholls State didn't have the hot shooting start in the second half, but managed to pull away again by outscoring the Tigers 12-2 to push the lead to 57-40 five minutes into period.
The Tigers then made a run to cut the lead to eight on a layup by Josh Dollard halfway through the second period after back to back steals and stuffs by Frank Tolbert and DeWayne Reed.
The Tigers cut the lead to 64-59 on a three by Archie Miaway with 7:10 to play, but Tolbert fouled out at the 6:44 mark.
The Tigers narrowed the gap to 65-62 at the 5:40 mark on a fastbreak basket by Dollard who had missed a breakaway dunk on the previous play. Then a one-on-one move by Dollard with 4:50 to play cut the lead to 65-64.
The Tigers pulled even at the 4:15 mark on a three-pointer from the wing by Barrett.
The Tigers gained the lead at the 3:01 mark on a three-point jumper from the top of the circle by Reed.
Neither team scored again until 1:21 remained when Reed made a fastbreak layup and was fouled. He added the free throw to stretch the Auburn lead to four.
After a steal, Barrett was tackled as he tried to break away for a layup. Instead he went to the foul line and made both ends of a one-and-one to stretch the AU lead to 78-72 with 1:12 to play.
The Colonels cut the lead to three on a trey from the corner by Stefan Blaszczynski to cut the gap to play with 48.4 to play. The Australian, playing in just his second game this season, led all scorers with 27 points and tied Barber for game-high rebound honors with 10.
After a missed jumper by Reed to beat the shot clock, the Colonels got up three three-pointers in an attempt to tie the game. The third one, a buzzer-beater by Blaszczynski, did the trick and sent the game to overtime.
A tip-in by Barrett on the opening possession of overtime gave the Tigers an 80-78 edge.
At the 3:26 mark a layup Dollard gave the Tigers an 84-80 lead.
Barber's acrobatic left-handed layup to beat the shot club with 1:39 left stretched the lead to 86-80. The Tigers iced the game with 42.6 seconds left on a pair of free throws by Quantez Robertson to build the lead to eight points.
Barber, who had his third double-double of the season plus a career-best 21 points, hit 9-15 field goals for the Tigers. However, he noted that it was defense that sparked the comeback more than offense. "We turned it up on defense and Rasheem and Archie (Archie Miaway) started making shots in the second half, but it was basically defense though.
"We didn't communicate in the first half and we started communicating and the crowd got behind us and we feed off their energy and just picked it up," Barber added.
Dolllard, who was suspended to start the season, made 6-10 field goals and added five rebounds in 25 minutes.
"I just tried to go out there and not do too much and work my way into the game," Dollard said. "It has been a long time since I played."
The Tigers got 12 points from Tolbert and 10 from Reed.
Auburn out-rebounded the Colonels 40-34 and had 19 turnovers, five less than the visitors.
Auburn returns to action with a Thursday night home game vs Louisiana-Monroe.